There are the Muscogee people. The paths they walked along the creeks and rivers became our roads and thoroughfares. There is Fort Peachtree and the War of 1812. There is Henry Irby and his eponymous general store, which in the mid-1800s stood in the vicinity of the Whole Foods Market. And there is the buck’s head, placed on a post not too far from that dry goods store which gave the area its name.
When I look back at Buckhead, I see something different. The Buckhead I know is much more familiar. It is my mother, Mary Kennedy, pointing out house after house, who lived where when and when each house was built. It is the story of her going with her parents to drop off gifts at Christmas to the Inman family’s house — the Swan House — when people lived there.
This weekend I have been asked on Mother’s Day to talk about Buckhead history at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Decorators’ Show House. As with everything I do, I am going to tell the story through the prism that is my own experience.
It begins with Alfred Austell, my great-great-great grandfather. He came to Atlanta in the 1850s and established his home on Marietta Street, a few blocks from Five Points. I begin there because among those early Buckhead residents were his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They were not farmers or pioneers. They were successful businessmen and civic leaders who followed a pattern of people moving away from the stifling city center and out to unincorporated Fulton County, where it was cooler and greener and the taxes were much more favorable.
My favorite house in Buckhead was built by a man known in our family as Uncle Willy, William Austell, Alfred Austell’s son. In 1915, he built the pink house which sits at the intersection of Andrews Drive and Austell Way. It was designed by the same firm that laid out the entire neighborhood of Peachtree Heights West, complete with linear parks and gracious lots and winding roads. The firm was Carrere and Hastings, a New York architectural company credited with several iconic buildings including the New York Public Library and the Standard Oil Building. Austell’s granddaughter, Jane Kennedy, built her home on Andrews Drive less than a mile from Uncle Willy’s driveway, which would become Austell Way. Her home was designed by Pringle and Smith and completed in 1923.
To me, these are but a few examples of Buckhead’s evolution as the preeminent address in the Southeastern U.S. and one of the finest addresses in the country. That is not to say my great-great grandmother and Uncle Willy deserve any credit. They were simply two of the many who chose to take advantage of the spacious lots and hire exemplary architects and landscape designers to lay the foundation for a truly unique community in the early part of the 20th century.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.